Note: This post went from mildly reflective to downright depressing in a hurry. You might want to pass on it but I decided to leave this rambling post as it was.
I am coming to the end of the 24 hour daylight period here. We are already getting sunrise/sunset period, the sun goes down just after 1 am and is back up around 3:30 am. Another week or so and we will actually get about 30 minutes of official darkness.
If all goes as planned this will be my last summer in the Arctic. I never would have imagined when I showed up here at age 22 that I would have spent over 12 years living in a small town near the Arctic Ocean. I have had some great experiences here. I met my wife here at a dance bar of all places, we raised children here, I made many friends, I went out on the land, camping, fishing, dog sledding, all sorts of outdoor experiences. I have driven this northern highway through beautiful mountains, I have driven the ice roads, flown a plane to the ocean, and seen things more beautiful than I can ever explain.
Unfortunately so many of the positive memories are obscured by the bad ones. This is a transient community, I have watched so many friends come and go over the years. This is also a place that is dominated by social problems. Alcohol abuse and, to an increasing extent, drug abuse are overwhelming common. Education is not valued and most children don't graduate high school. Generations of people here have been scarred by sexual and physical abuse thanks to residential schooling and I don't know if they will ever recover. Many of the smaller communities are in a terrible state. During my time here, especially my time as a volunteer police officer, I can't begin to count the number of drunk people I have pulled out of ditches, the violence I have seen, the self-abuse, and the sheer scale of human misery that most white middle class men don't have to deal with in Canada. I've certainly worked in some rough urban areas before I came here but this was different. I saw people at their worst inside their homes. Attempted and actual suicides, rapes, beatings - it's hard to imagine how casual the whole process around it becomes. A few times I had a mild adrenaline rush, you think you are "taking down the bad guys." And then, if you are paying attention, you realize there are few bad guys but a lot of really fucked up people that are floundering in life and need help.
A few weeks ago I was driving home from work and a woman fell into the road, I almost hit her with the work truck. She was covered in blood, drunk, and mostly incoherent. I picked her up, put her in the truck and drove her to the hospital. People were standing by the road watching, uncaring. I don't know if she was beaten or took a fall, I don't even know her name. I carried her into the hospital and this was the first question I got: "Does she belong to you?" No one was concerned about a man carrying a bloody woman in, no one was going to call the police, they didn't even want my name. Just another routine morning though perhaps there was some mild surprise that I brought her in at all.
Such violence and substance abuse creates both direct and indirect victims. The emergency care workers and the police become desensitized and uncaring but how else do you cope? That woman was patched up, probably stuck in a cell to dry out and most likely back at it the next day. I scrubbed down, tossed my clothes and spent an hour washing blood from the truck; didn't think much of it until some other people I work with started freaking out at what happened. At times I used to be mildly concerned with how relaxed I was with everything going on. Shouldn't this affect me more? Or is it affecting me and I am suppressing it?
There's also such an ugly strain of casual racism here. Generally the kind of underhanded racism that can be the hardest to do something about. The first few times that some prick said something shitty about "toothless Eskimo sluts" or something to that effect to my face, not realizing that my wife is aboriginal,* it was easy to enact some personal satisfaction. But it's a lot more common to see people exclude me from their social circle as non-whites seem to make them uncomfortable.
*I'm ashamed to say that I don't think I would have been quite so forward with my reactions if I wasn't in a mixed marriage.
I still have such fond memories of the racist old bitch of a nun that did our pre-marriage interviews. My wife was Catholic, sort of, and I was an uncaring agnostic that had turned away from organized religion. I was willing to get married in the Catholic church for her but I knew it would be an issue (my mother was Catholic). My wife, who grew up in a tiny village that only knew the church through the same priest (lived there for 50 years) wasn't familiar with all the BS that surrounds a Catholic marriage or how out of step with reality the "modern" Catholic church is.
So the nun sat us down for a little meeting. After establishing that we wanted to get married, my wife was Catholic, I wasn't, and that we were living together, it went something like this...
Crazy nun (to me) - "Have you been baptized"
Me - "In the Mormon church"
CN (looking at me as though Satan was made flesh) - "That doesn't count. It must be a Christian baptism at least."
Me - "Mormons are Christians but whatever, I'm not getting baptized"
CN - "We can talk about that later. We are going to need to do a background check on you."
Me - "Um, what?"
CN - "All you white men are just up here looking for your Indian** wife, you are probably already married down south."
Me - "WHAT did you say?"
CN - "These mixed marriages never really work anyway, you should really stick to your own kind."
Me - "Go fuck yourself, we're done here."
Yep, what a sweet old lady to put in charge of marriage interviews. Very culturally sensitive but then the Catholics still like to pretend they didn't brutalize the north for a hundred years.
That was the end of that fiasco, Justice of the Peace, here we come!
**One of the easiest ways to figure out someone is American is their use of Indian as a descriptive term; it is almost never said here other than for old names such as "Department of Indian and North Affairs." To most people in Canada, that's a serious racial/cultural slur. I remember this older couple that flew in, they asked for some weather information then the woman asked me this classic touristy question, "We were going to fly a little north and seem some of the coastal towns but I was wondering if they were just typical dirty Indian villages that aren't worth seeing?" I told her that I didn't know what a typical Indian village was and she should be aware of 2 things. 1) Going up to one of the towns and calling it an Indian Village (let alone dirty Indian) is incredibly insulting and possibly dangerous. 2) It's doubly insulting as the Inuvialuit aren't "Indians" as she understands the term.
I moved here in '99 for work, this is where I was posted with the company. Work has consumed my life here to an unhealthy degree. In our modern and wonderful society it seems work is our main focus and what defines us. Even in a smaller, supposedly slow paced town, I have worked so much just to try to keep up with the extremely high cost of living.
A move is what we need. I want a change in our lives, a chance to start over in a place where we can put down roots. I want a place that will be my home, where I can try to make some positive contributions to the community and plan for what looks like a bleak future.
This is the place where I became a man, it has shaped me, mostly for the better. I have certainly learned a lot living here and I don't regret coming but I do regret staying this long and once I leave, I don't plan on coming back.